Central Valley
Central Valley
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature

Conservation of Symbiotic Bees Pollinators and Vernal Pool Goldfields

by fairy shrimp
Developers attempt to build sprawl-marts on top of critical habitat for a great many endnagered species in the Sacramento Valley's vanishing vernal pools. What are some reasons for protecting the valley's vernal pool biodiversity?
For people in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley to want to save local vernal pool habitats, there often needs to be some motivating factor. Maybe this article can add reasons to inspire action to save these rare ecosystems from extinction..

There are many different substrates found in vernal pool seasonal wetlands throughout the Sacramento Valley in California. Vernal pools are seasonally flooded wetlands in late winter and spring, becoming dry and arid in late summer and autumn. This extreme range of moisture availability results in unique evolutionary adaptations by plant and animal inhabitants of vernal pool ecosystems. This paper will focus on the importance of wildflower populations of vernal pool wetlands and their symbiotic pollinators..

An overview of vernal pools includes categories of impermeable substrate materials called “hardpan” that prevents surface water drainage and results in the seasonal vernal pool formations. Clay and basalt are two common impermeable substrates that block water drainage and collect rainwater in small pools. Often times a slight slope will cause the water to flow downhill from pool to pool at a slow rate. The slow moving water networks that connect vernal pools are called vernal swales. These hardpan formations vary throughout the Sacramento Valley, depending on regional geological formations and tectonic uplift. One example is the volcanic basalt hardpan substrate of Table Mountain in Oroville. Just a few miles to the northwest in the Vina and Stillwater complex the hardpan substrate is clay. Sometimes these mineral substrates can promote or discourage
different species of wildflowers to thrive there..

Wildflowers inhabiting vernal pools come in every color of the rainbow and usually follow regular breeding cycles dependent on water level. When pools slowly evaporate different species of wildflowers will begin flowering and quickly produce seed. The order of wildflower successions result from flower species tolerance of groundwater saturation. The visual effects of this natural pattern are rings of different color wildflowers with the most drought tolerant on the outside and the most water dependent
on the inside..

Various shapes and sizes of wildflowers influence their method of pollination. All wildflowers need to reproduce their genes by pollination between male and female parts. The male part is called the stamen and contains the pollen that will fertilize the female's ovary on the pistil following transport and contact. Many flowers contain both sex organs in the center between the brightly colored petals. Though some can self pollinate, it is better for the flower to increase genetic diversity by sending pollen away from itself into another flower some distance away. Wind pollination is very random and to work successfully the flowers must make large amounts of pollen. To avoid this energy expenditure many flowers have evolved symbiotic relationships with insect, bat or hummingbird pollinators to transport the pollen accurately to the female flower. Most vernal pool wildflowers are small and thus are pollinated by small insects, usually solitary bees, butterflies or moths..

Symbiotic relationships occur when both parties involved gain some benefit from one another. In this case, the insect gets nutritional carbohydrate sugars from the flower's nectar and pollen. As the insect travels amongst the same species of wildflowers feasting on the energy rich nectar, some pollen clings to its’ hair or body and is transferred to the next flower.
Thus the flowers can exchange genetic material within their species without expending large amounts of pollen for wind pollination. The insect can collect enough pollen and nectar to feed itself and its’ young a very nutritious meal. This symbiotic evolution occurred in vernal pools over thousands of years..

Certain flowers are only pollinated by certain insects. One example is Fremontt’s goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii), a member of the composite sunflower family (Asteraceae). A closely related species of the (Lasthenia) genus is (L. californica), called California goldfields. Sometimes the substrate can influence which species of (Lasthenia) is dominant. Composite members share the trait of containing several smaller flowers within the flower's disk head. (L. fremontii) is pollinated by a specialist solitary bee (Andrena submoesta) that nests underground and emerges just in time for the brief season of goldfield's blooming. Other vernal pool wildflowers like (Limnanthes) and (Downingia) are pollinated by different species of solitary bees. Research shows that each specialist bee's life cycle is closely timed with the wildflower species' reproductive cycle (Thropp). This ensures that bee obtains pollen for food and the flower can efficiently exchange genetic material in pollen without depending on the
randomness of wind pollination..

The solitary bees then bring the extra pollen made by the flowers to their larvae housed safely in tunnels nearby. In the process of collecting pollen in leg baskets the bees brush up against the female part of another flower, depositing some grains of pollen on the pistil, where the male pollen can enter the female's ovary..

Goldfields themselves may prove to be just as valuable as their colorful name to modern humans. Indigenous Californians harvested the seeds of goldfields for gringing into flour following their pollination and germination (“Sacramento Splash”). As with their much larger composite cousins the sunflowers, goldfield seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals. Goldfinches also include goldfield seeds in their diet. Since goldfields occur in large quantities, their seeds could supplement a nutritionally diverse
diet of other native plant and animal species throughout the Sacramento Valley. Enough seeds were left in the ground to ensure plenty of goldfields for next year's harvest. In addition, little work is needed outside of collection and preparation of seeds for consumption, since the bees and the flowers do the work themselves..

This contrasts greatly with the modern conventional agriculture that is both labor and resource intensive. Many harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are utilized in conventional agriculture systems. This results in farm workers having higher rates of cancer and other illness from exposure to toxic pesticides. Regional watersheds also suffer as carcinogenic chemicals soak into the soil and enter groundwater. Conventional agriculture has not evolved with seasonal water adaptations and requires intensive irrigation, and also is sensitive to flooding. Over 90 percent of the valley’s original vernal pool ecosystems were lost to some form of development (“Dateline”, Wright). Once vernal pool habitat is converted to conventional agriculture or poorly planned suburban development by deep ripping, these unique species are lost from that site for an indefinite time. Deep ripping uses heavy equipment to churn the top 5 – 12 feet of soil, destroying the morphological conditions of the vernal pool’s impermeable substrate (“Fremontia”, Vendlinski).

Many scientists predict future flooding in these low lying locations. The recent storms may indicate what is coming to the west coast in our global warming future. When higher ocean temps increase evaporation, we may witness greater storm activity in coastal regions. Hurricane Katrina is one example. When studying the unique ecological habitat and specialization of vernal
pool wildflowers and their symbiotic bee pollinators, most people cannot help but feel a strong attachment and desire to protect these species from senseless destruction. Unfortunately, there will also always be people who prefer short term finacial gain at the expense of ecosystems and conservation..

Perhaps in the future the wisdom of the solitary bees’ symbiotic relationship with vernal pool goldfields can be appreciated by modern day human society. Recognizing the traditional ecological wisdom of California’s indigenous peoples may help overcome modern society’s hurdles of the pesticide treadmill, over-irrigation and loss of valuable goldfield vernal pool ecosystems to suburban sprawl as people return to appreciation and consumption of native wildflower seeds like goldfields..


Sacramento Splash; “Life in Our Watershed; Investigating Vernal Pools”
Version 3

"Vernal pool flowers and their specialist bee pollinators"
Robbin W. Thorp
Professor of Entomology Emeritus, University of California, Davis

“California’s Vernal Pools; Accomplishments and Conservation Strategies”
Tim Vendlinski
California Native Plant Society “Fremontia” Vol 27:4 and 28:1, January 2000

“Protecting our Disappearing Vernal Pools”
Sylvia Wright
Dateline; UC Davis April 26, 2002

other sacramento valley info;

on pesticides;

"A significant fraction of pesticides used in California are "Bad Actor" pesticides – capable of causing acute poisoning, cancer, birth defects, sterility, neurotoxicity, damage to the developing child and/or contaminating California groundwater. Of 188 million pounds of pesticides reported used in 2000 in California, 70 million (34%) meet one or more of these criteria."

Californians for Pesticide Reform;

(PS How about Californians for Pesticide Abolition, or is that waaay too radical??)

Unfortunately little has changed since the UFW published "Fields of Poison" in 2002, many of these toxic pesticides/herbicides, etc.. discussed in this paper continue to be used in conventional agriculture today..

download "Fields of Poison" @ UFW site;

on development in flood prone regions;

Count on ol' Arnie to literally sell people down the river..

"Housing development in the Central Valley has become a billion-dollar industry, financially linked to both Republicans and Democrats. Investors routinely purchase undeveloped floodplain land for relatively low prices, throw up tract housing and then re-sell each unit at prices greatly inflated by the current housing bubble. If wealthy investors find a compliant local government, they can make multimillion-dollar profits on single projects.


Two of the biggest developers, Alex Spanos and Fritz Grupe, are heavy financial supporters of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Spanos alone contributed $2 million to “Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team,” an Orwellian euphemism for the committee used to push his now failed ballot measures.

After the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, the California Water Reclamation Board, the agency with direct responsibility for the levees, announced that it would review all developments proposed in flood-prone areas. In response to developer complaints, Schwarzenegger removed the entire board and made his own appointments."

entire article @;

Vernal pools on the Vina and Stillwater Plains occur north of the Sac delta floodplain, yet these also are considered flood prone regions. However, developers often attempt to build houses over vernal pools, even though in a few years the houses will most likely sink into the soggy soil anyway. Another one of those developer faux paux like building houses near the edge of cliffs. What's most unfair is that working class people end up subsidizing these mistakes with their taxes as FEMA bumbles around with their emergency relief fund. In the instance that working class people are flooded (New Orleans 9th ward) the FEMA funds are nowhere to be found (neither are the FEMA rescue personal). Finally after growing weary of the federal regulators that are suppossed to protect wetlands, some local and national environmental groups are taking the feds to court..

"Chico, CA – Butte Environmental Council, the California Native Plant Society, and Defenders of Wildlife have filed a 60 day notice letter to inform the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Sacramento Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Transportation that they intend to sue the agencies over violations of the Endangered Species Act. These violations include their failure to issue a legally sufficient biological opinion and amendment for the proposed FHA/CalTrans highway improvement project for State Routes 70-99-149-191 in Butte County, failure to comply with the terms and conditions of such opinion, failure to reinitiate consultation with USFWS after new information was revealed regarding impacts to threatened and endangered vernal pool species, and failure to insure that the proposed highway expansion project will not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify critical habitat of listed species."

Can there be organic farming (without toxic chemicals), affordable housing and vernal pool wetlands? Yes, i believe that all three of these can occurr simultaneously without causing species extinction. Maybe we need to re-examine the types of housing used and look at how the indigenous peoples of the valley lived lightly on the land. Growing your own vegetables and harvesting seeds from vernal pool wildflowers are all possibilities. Crop diversity is a renewed method of farming neglected by the chemically dependent conventional agriculture. One great example is the "three sisters", maize, beans and squash, each one a different height and each one benefits the other..

Here's a neat play that merges science and ecology with art, great concept;

"Three sisters grow together in a farmer’s field. The sisters are close and protect one another.

The first sister, standing straight and tall, provides support for the second sister.

The second sister is a climber. She adds nitrogen to the soil, feeding and nourishing the other two.

The third sister covers the soil with broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing.

In these ways, each sister helps the others. The sisters grow faster and stronger with each other’s help."

(BTW, it is a bit funny to here Euro-american politicians in Washington DC refer to Mexicans as "illegal immigrants". Just who do they think brought the maize plant up to el norte (see Cahokia Mounds) by foot a few thousand years ago? Only back then they weren't called Mexicans, they were Aztec, Maya, etc..)

Fruit trees, oaks (produce nutritious acorns) and vernal pool ecosystems can all interact nearby one another. Having wildflower habitat can provide housing to beneficial insects, thereby naturally reducing the amounts of pest insects attacking the vegetables..

Here's one of many examples of indigenous recipes, this one for tan oak acorn crepes;

& black oak acorn (nupa) soup;

"Acorn is high in protein and contains almost every essential vitamin. This we know because we had to have it analyzed before the doctors at Oak Knoll Naval hospital my grandmother was in prior to her passing would allow her to have it."

Those two oaks are found in the coastal region (tan) and the foothills (black). The great valley oak (Quercus lobata) once dropped tons of acorns every year from it's spreading branches when it thrived throughout the valley. A great many valley oaks fell to the chainsaw in the recent waves of development. The valley oak occurrs in the valley in places that don't flood as often, nearby to vernal pools and other wetlands. This indicates the central valley was a lush mosaic of habitats capable of supplying the indigenous people with a diversity of nutritional food plants. In addition, there were also plenty of pronghorn antelope and tule elk that lived throughout the valley. Gathering food and hunting was a balanced activity that always left enough for the future generations, unlike commercial hunting and the soil depleting practices of conventional agriculture, and the soil smothering suburban sprawl development. Many of us desire the cycle of life to restore the ecosystem to the way it was when the indigenous people lived here, prior to the arrival of Columbus. We realize that there are now many more humans from all over the Earth, that's fine, though we would ask all these post-Columbus newcomers to kindly take a few moments to contemplate the ecological wisdom and knowledge of the indigenous peoples before making hasty decisions in developing vernal pools and other sensitive habitats. Let your children know the joy of running through a fields of vernal pool goldfields..

"Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology... has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there." -William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991

quote found @;

by D. Meadowfoam
This is text of letter to the editor of SN&R, the free weekly paper in Sacramento presenting a liberal/leftist viewpoint. Most of the time they are a much better source of local ecological issues than the corporate greenwashing tactics of the Sacramento Bee, though every now and then the SN&R needs to be given additional info to gain a complete understanding of the issue at hand. This is the article that the response refers to..

Need to respond to the article "The Honey Flow" written in the April 6th (V 18, I. 2) about the beekeepers of the Sacramento Valley. Author Kate Washington interviewed Nancy Stewart who claimed that "The wild ones are pretty much gone, though some years are better than others". This statement may be clarified for better understanding. Yes, many of the wild bees have lost their native (pre-Columbus arrival) habitat, though there are still many places where significant populations of wild native bees remain. Vernal pools are some of these habitats, here native solitary bees live wild and interact with their host wildflower species during the accelerated blooming season. Vernalpool wildflowers depend on the seasonal spring rains to fill up with water, and quickly dry as the summer begins. That gives the wildflowers only a few months to emerge from seed, grow, bloom, pollinate, fertilize and reseed the ground. The native wild bees evolved symbiotically with specific vernalpool wildflower species. Competition from honeybees isn't the greatest threat to wild bees, as both bee species prefer different food. Even wild native bumblebees can live symbiotically with these other smaller bees, provided they have access to flowering plant species. The greatest modern threat to native bees is suburban sprawl, Wal-marts and other intrusions that replace vernal pool habitat with pavement. If anyone wants to view some vernal pool habitats and their brilliant wildflowers that include every color of the rainbow, visit

to begin your search for a vernal pool near you..

We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


$210.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network